HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Jennifer Foxworthy is F.I.T.
That is, she’s focused, intentional, and thriving. Foxworthy, a Navy combat veteran turned public speaker, author, and domestic violence advocate, shared the secrets behind her inspiring story with NAVAIR employees at a national virtual Women’s History Month event on March 24, with a theme of “I Can! I Will! I Did! Succeeding as an African-American Woman in the Military.”
Foxworthy served in three wars – Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq – logged more than 3,700 flight hours and received four Air Medals, all while overcoming challenges and barriers unique to an African-American aircrewman.
“When you recognize your unique qualities, you will always stand out, even when you’re trying to blend in,” Foxworthy said. “As you walk boldly in your purpose and passion, you will encounter people who will want to dim your light so they can feel comfortable. When we are diverse and inclusive, it allows for a collective strength. It’s teambuilding at its greatest, its finest.”
Growing up in poverty in York, Pennsylvania, Foxworthy set her sights higher than the inner city. She joined the Navy as part of the delayed entry program after high school.
“When you understand your potential, you may have to switch environments in order for you to grow and expand your wings,” she explained. “I’m not just going to settle for what I see in front of me. My vision is further than my current reality.”
Her instructor at Naval Air Crew Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, said Foxworthy’s physique as a black woman would prevent her from swimming the mile in the required 70-minute timeframe.
“I’m not one to care about skin color, but I knew I was the odd person in the group,” she said. “I used it [the feedback] as fuel. I practiced.” In the end, she swam the mile in 68 minutes and became the first African-American woman to graduate from that school in the 10 years prior.
For Foxworthy, it’s all about having an equal playing field.
“Respect is earned, and it’s given, but I just want to be treated like a human being,” she said. “It’s about moving forward, making a difference, proving that you belong. I proved I belonged, that I wasn’t willing to be shoved into a small box of stereotypes.”
In addition to workplace bullying, Foxworthy also found herself in an abusive relationship, where she said she was fighting a war on three fronts.
“I was facing a personal war of someone who professed they loved me but mistreated me, a professional war of trying to fit in when I clearly stood out, and then I was flying combat missions with my crew in three different wars,” she said. “I was better prepared to be a prisoner of war than to deal with domestic violence.”
She channeled her experiences to thrive – not just survive – and help others do the same through her work as a substance abuser counselor at Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River before retiring from the Navy.
“When you go through adversity, recognize it, restore yourself and forgive,” she advised. “It’s about moving forward, not having resentment. I was paving the way for other African-Americans and other women who were coming behind me, and maybe everything I went through, they will have it just a little bit better.”
Foxworthy urged employees to practice self-reflection as they move toward greater workplace inclusion and suggested taking small steps, such as letting everyone have a fair opportunity to speak, asking for suggestions and comments, and then following through.
“What will you do differently today? Do some soul searching and self-reflection. How are you treating others? How are you uplifting others? How do we celebrate each other’s differences?” she asked.
This event was co-hosted by NAVAIR’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office and Women’s Initiative Network (WIN), which works to recruit, develop and retain women throughout the command in support of naval aviation.
“We need everyone to be able to bring their authentic self to work every day,” said WIN executive champion Steve Cricchi. “Our sailors and Marines deserve the best, and we can only deliver the best when we’re getting 100% effort from 100% of our people.”